When Denita Lyngdoh stepped onto the pitch at the Bull Ring Football and Sports Arena in Bengaluru, she felt a rising excitement within her. She was part of the five-member Bengaluru Red Blind Women’s Football Team. The front of her red T-shirt read ‘Healing Lives’, and matched her red boots and red eye mask.
Her team was playing a demonstration match against Bengaluru Blue team. Soon, she got a pass from her team member Mohini. The ball had bearings inside it which created a ringing sound when it is moved. As Denita ran with the ball, the opposing defenders shouted ‘voy voy’ so that Denita didn’t crash into them.
She swerved past the defenders one by one. On approaching the goal, a guide from behind the goalpost gave instructions to Denita on where the goalkeeper was standing as well as the distance between the two posts. Denita took a shot. But she didn’t know whether the ball went till the announcer said, “Denita has scored.”
On hearing this the young footballer did a free run with open arms. “I don’t know how I did it. But I felt so happy when the ball went in,” says Denita on scoring the goal. She has always loved football. While growing up in the village of Marshillong in Meghalaya, Denita would play football with her brothers and sisters. On breaking her spectacles multiple times during these matches, her parents advised her to stop playing. But Denita had been suffering from glaucoma since the age of four which made her retreat indoors and step away from the sport she loved. Now after decades, she has got another chance to play the game.
Namita Haloi, who is originally from Guwahati and part of Denita’s team, has a similar story. “When I first played football, I loved the experience. I was always interested in sports and took part in athletic competitions in school,” she says.Meanwhile, Kochi-based Sunil J Mathew, Director of the Indian Blind Football Federation (IBBF) as well as the head coach of the national team, says there are plans to put together women’s teams in Delhi, Bengaluru and the Northeast. “We are hoping to organise a six-team women’s tournament by the end of the year. Efforts are on to train women coaches and mentors. We will be conducting mini camps, along with awareness tours all over India,” he explains.
Sunil has another goal—to put together a national team so that they can participate in the first World Championships in February 2020 in Nigeria, which will be conducted by the International Blind Sports Federation. “We will have to get sponsors, but if we manage to put up a team, we will be the second in Asia after Japan,” he points out.
Meanwhile, Denita, Namita and Mohini (who is from Uttar Pradesh) and locals like Nagaratnam and Jyoti are continuing to play football in the weekends. They usually head to a ground in Yeshwantpur and play for an hour under the guidance of Dominic Nido, who is also an avid footballer studying computers. Sunil invited Dominic from Arunachal Pradesh to Kochi to attend a camp conducted by Ulrich Pfisterer, the chairman of the International Blind Sports Federation in September 2017.
“Ulrich taught us how to dribble, how to cut in from the side to the centre, how to score from a penalty kick and take corner kicks. I am passing this knowledge to the girls. They are very enthusiastic. I think football gives them a chance to express their personalities. Hopefully, Sunil sir will be able to put up teams and hold tournaments soon,” says Dominic who also suffers from visual impairment.
Rules Of the game
In five-a-side blind football, four players should be B1 (fully blind), while the goalkeeper can be B3, which means he can have partial sight, or be fully sighted. The field should be 40x20 metres and the game should last 50 minutes, with a break of 10 minutes. Players can be substituted any number of times. There are cushioned boards on all sides so that the ball does not go out. It also prevents players from hurting themselves. Before the match, the referee places eye patches on the players to create total darkness, as some may have a slight perception of light. A protective blindfold ensures that the players are protected from head injuries.